Red­coats’ legacy of­ten for­got­ten

Bri­tain sent 18,000 troops to fight in the Land Wars and many stayed as set­tlers, writes Char­lotte Mac­don­ald Soldiers who had served largely as bach­e­lors mar­ried into local com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing across the lines pre­vi­ously di­vided by war.

The New Zealand Herald - - EDITORIAL & LETTERS - Char­lotte Mac­don­ald is a pro­fes­sor of his­tory at Vic­to­ria Uni­ver­sity of Welling­ton.

Last Satur­day, the first of­fi­cial Day of Re­mem­brance — Ra Mauma­hara — was held to com­mem­o­rate the New Zealand Land Wars of the 19th cen­tury. Cer­e­monies re­called those who died in the wars and the tragic lega­cies of the con­flicts.

For iwi at the fore­front of these events, the sig­nif­i­cance of the wars and the pur­pose of re­mem­ber­ing is clear. It is their peo­ple who fought, and sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions who have mourned the losses that fol­lowed. But what is it that New Zealan­ders as a whole might have re­mem­bered on this oc­ca­sion?

Is this an event that mat­ters to us all? What role might Pakeha have in re­mem­ber­ing these events?

Let’s take a closer look at the his­tory of who took part in the New Zealand Land Wars. The ma­jor­ity of those who fought against Nga­puhi in the 1840s, against Taranaki iwi and Waikato’s Kin­gi­tanga and their al­lies in the 1860s, were the 18,000 or so Bri­tish troops sent to serve in New Zealand by the Sec­re­tary of State for War in Lon­don.

These were men of reg­u­lar Army in­fantry reg­i­ments, along with Royal Navy marines. In New Zealand they fought along­side smaller num­bers of colo­nial mili­tia.

Who were these Bri­tish red­coat soldiers? Where did they come from? What kinds of ex­pe­ri­ence did they bring to New Zealand?

Some had served in the Crimea in 1854-56. Oth­ers had been in In­dia at the time of the 1857 re­bel­lion.

Soldiers sent to the Bay of Is­lands in 1844-45 came from Syd­ney, where they had served as guards on con­vict trans­ports. From 1860, when war be­gan in Taranaki and then spread to the Waikato and the Bay of Plenty, soldiers poured into New Plymouth and Auck­land. Troops were again dis­patched from Syd­ney and from the Vic­to­rian gold­fields.

The 70th reg­i­ment was one of sev­eral to come from In­dia. The men of the 68th sailed from Ran­goon to Auck­land and al­most im­me­di­ately were fight­ing at Gate Pa Puke­hi­nahina in early 1864.

By the time of the ma­jor cam­paigns in 1863-64 there were about 12,000 Bri­tish soldiers in New Zealand. About one in five of these soldiers of em­pire ap­plied to take their dis­charge from the Army in New Zealand. Giv­ing up their ri­fle and uni­form they be­came “sol­dier set­tlers”.

In the un­equal af­ter­math that was the “peace”, land con­fis­cated from Maori be­came land for such set­tlers — or, as of­ten, for the op­por­tunist spec­u­la­tors with cap­i­tal to ex­ploit it for profit.

Soldiers who had served largely as bach­e­lors mar­ried into local com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing across the lines pre­vi­ously di­vided by war. The wars cre­ated a legacy in fam­ily and per­sonal his­to­ries as well as in the “big” his­to­ries of pol­i­tics, colony and em­pire.

A re­search project at Vic­to­ria Uni­ver­sity of Welling­ton has been work­ing to iden­tify this group of im­pe­rial soldiers, draw­ing on records cre­ated by the War Of­fice and held in the Na­tional Ar­chives in Lon­don. A data­base con­tain­ing names and some de­tails of about 12,000 men has just been re­leased. It pro­vides search­able pub­lic access to the names, reg­i­ments and dates of ser­vice in New Zealand. It is a first in­stal­ment of what will grow to be­come a larger re­source.

The ma­jor­ity of men came from hum­ble back­grounds. Many were born in ru­ral Ire­land with few prospects beyond em­i­gra­tion or the re­cruit­ing of­fi­cer. Con­di­tions in the Army for the great ma­jor­ity who served as rank-and-file pri­vates were brutish.

Ra­tions were crude, liquor too plen­ti­ful and pun­ish­ment lib­eral.

Flog­ging was com­monly im­posed as dis­ci­pline, while it was still a com­mon prac­tice for of­fi­cers to buy their po­si­tions. The data­base shows us the faces be­hind the ab­stract la­bels of “Crown”, “gov­ern­ment” and “em­pire”.

The wars of the 1860s were bloody and harsh events. This side of our his­tory is not easy. But it is surely high time for New Zealan­ders to know what hap­pened here, in the places where we live; to recog­nise Ran­giriri as well as Gal­lipoli. Oc­to­ber 28 each year will pro­vide an oc­ca­sion for our past to be known, un­der­stood, and re­mem­bered, not just be­cause his­tory tells a story but be­cause it is the story that makes us who we are.

Pic­ture / Alexan­der Turnbull Li­brary

Soldiers of the Light In­fantry Com­pany, 65th Reg­i­ment (York­shire, North Rid­ing), which saw ac­tion in Taranaki and the Waikato.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.